In Da’ Club

The title of a thumpin’ Fiddy Cent track.

It’s well known that adolescents place great importance on fitting into groups. It’s less well known that we never outgrow our need for affiliation. Our happiness isn’t contingent on being in da’ club, but in clubs, as the following experiences have recently reminded me.

Cycling up and down Washington State’s mountains. The roads we cycle routinely attract motorcycle and car clubs. No motorized vehicles for ten minutes then whoosh, whoosh, whoosh—twenty five Miatas, Nissan Cubes, or Christian Harley riders. Interesting how special interest groups form around a common interest—like climbing mountains on bicycles—or by driving a common car or motorcycle.

Working out at the Y. The Y is teeming with clubs including traditional aerobics, yoga, water aerobics, Masters swimming, 5:30a.m. basketball, spinning, and the retiree coffee klatsch.

Reading a Sojourners Magazine interview with Rebecca Barrett-Fox who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Westboro “Baptist Church” which just protested at our state capitol and local high school. Here’s the relevant excerpt: SojournersDid the actual church service resemble mainstream Christian worship? Barret-Fox—I saw a lot of circling the wagons, with sermons about things like Noah and the flood and how only eight people got on the ark. This church is the ark, so if you’re a part of this church you’re getting on. The sermons are actually very typical of themes addressed in Calvinist teaching: questions of how you know that you are in or how you know that they are out. Sojourners—So the attraction is the appeal of being part of the “in group.” Barret-Fox—Exactly. And I could see the attractiveness of that in a world that is fragmented and scary, especially if you are not okay with doubt or gray areas.

Westboro isn’t a spiritual community, it’s a sociological one. Members have distinct identities—chosen hate mongers. The hate-filled rhetoric, signage, and protests are shared experiences that reinforce a distinct group mindset. Barret-Fox adds: . . . church members create a culture that makes it uncomfortable to leave, and that becomes a high hurdle. They’ll take you off the church rolls, so you are excommunicated, but it amounts to more than simply excommunication from church services; it is de facto shunning because, as one member has said, “We don’t have time to talk to people who aren’t part of the church.”

I’m not the clubber that more extraverted peeps like the GalPal are—church council club, Spanish book club, and a coffee klatsch among others. I have a small group of friends I run with a few mornings each week (known affectionately as the Baboons, after a homeless woman yelled angrily at us “You look like a bunch of baboons!” while we were running shirtless on a hot summer morning on 4th Street) and another that I cycle with a few evenings each week for half of the year. Add that to my list of oddities, the bulk of my clubbing takes place at between 7 and 24 miles per hour.

Suburban neighborhoods—where I’ve spent too much of my life—conspire against community. There’s the occasional neighborhood garage sale or July 4th potluck, but suburbanites are usually stuck driving to fitness centers, grocery stores, post offices, and the bulk of their small groups activities. We need more urban planning that promotes community—with walking and bike trails, parks, and small accessible stores and service providers.

Once safely ensconced in a group most teens forget about what it feels like to be on the outside. Too often, we don’t outgrow that either. One thing I’ve always admired about Betrothed is she’s always conscious of people who are new to church or a social gathering and she goes out of her way to introduce herself and talk to them. The world is a tad more humane and friendly as a result of her presence.

Once securely in a group, we tend to adopt specific behaviors to signal that we’re “in da’ club”. At my Iron-distance triathlon in late August, there will be a ginormous merchandise village at which nearly everyone of the 3,000 participants will load up on t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, visors, and all things fitness to “signal” they are “in da’ club”. Dig the sweatshirt—I am an Ironperson, you’re not. (To which the ambivalent clubber in me says, “Big whoop. So you’re well-to-do, over-exercise, and probably suffer from early onset narcissism.)

At Lutheran churches we sometimes signal we’re “in da’ club” by referencing all things Garrison Keiler and Norwegian. Numb to the fact that “inside references or jokes” make newcomers who aren’t Scandinavian feel less than full members of the community.

Self-important academics (sorry for the redundancy) are especially skilled at drawing circles around their clubs which are usually tied to specific disciplines. Among other methods, they create and use elaborate terms and acronyms that leave outsiders wondering exactly what the hell they’re talking about.

We should acknowledge our need for group affiliation and build neighborhoods that promote the formation and success of small groups. We need more people like my Better Half who are especially conscious of those not “in da club”. And we would be well served by reflecting more regularly on the ways our clubs sometimes exclude others.

When It Comes to the Media, New is Not Better—The Huffington Post as Case Study

“Come here dad,” Sixteen said a few days ago, “you have to see this.” A vid made by some of her high school classmates.

What’s the capital of Washington? Some students say Seattle, others tentatively guess Olympia. Especially funny because they’re Olympia High School students standing two miles from the Capital Campus. Goes downhill from there. What foreign countries border the U.S.? Some guess South America. One girl says “Canada,” and then adds, “no, that’s a state.”

The students’ struggles make sense given 1) social studies content, disconnected from our country’s economic performance, is not seen as worthwhile today and 2) too many social studies courses are taught poorly. The students’ ignorance isn’t the story. The story is what passes for journalism today.

Thursday afternoon, skimming the Huffington Post, I was shocked to stumble upon the vid and this story. Three things to note.

1) Don’t expect anyone at the Huffington Post to take the time to scratch below the surface and show that things aren’t always as they appear. Over 1,200 students attend OHS and about twelve are highlighted in the vid. Olympia High students have been accepted to Yale each of the last three years. Two years ago, two young women went to M.I.T. This year, two young men got perfect 2,400 scores on their SATs. Another student will play golf at Stanford next year. Those stories don’t get highlighted because they don’t serve the purposes of those who want to convince others that U.S. schools are failing, teachers are lazy, and teacher unions are the root of all evil.

2) New journalism is not better journalism. The story and the vid have next to nothing to do with one another; as a result, the story doesn’t make sense, doesn’t hang together, and therefore, never should have ran.

Comedy aside, the United State’s poor international rankings in subject proficiencies such as math is a problem that could cost the country around $75 trillion over 80 years, according to a study called “Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?” Based on the research, U.S. students place behind 31 other countries in math proficiency, and behind 16 other countries in reading.

What the hell kind of segue is that? One minute 1% of students are unsure of some basic knowledge, the next, the country is $75 trillion dollars poorer. If this is new journalism, I’ll stick with the old.

3. Young people aren’t thinking about their privacy nearly enough. One minute a few students are having some chuckles practicing their videography skills, the next, their work has a word-wide audience. When I stumbled upon the story the vid had 37,500 hits. By now it’s probably six figures. The second comment, about a friend of Sixteen’s reads, “Dammn would nail the girl in gray by herself.” The “girl in gray” had no idea what might happen to the footage once her classmates uploaded it to Vimeo. I’m not buying this “end of privacy” bullshit. I’m guessing she regrets having participated. Lots of lessons for all of the young people involved. The primary one, having a vid go viral may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Postscript—one of the comments from someone at the school:

This article is incredibly misleading and should be taken down immediatel­y. It doesn’t contextual­ize the video properly and makes it sound as if the answers given in it are representa­tive of… well, something. The following descriptio­n is from the High School Student newspaper “The Olympus” which produced the video:

“Students found Jay Leno’s “Jay Walking” videos funny and decided to make one of their own. As is natural for a comic bit, the creators edited in the funniest responses, with the students’ consent. Though there were many correct answers to these pop questions, the comments in national forums concentrat­e on the negative, and, as usual, do not take into considerat­ion the amount of editing it took to get these funny, incorrect answers. So, we are taking down our video. Thanks for thinking about this. It is an interestin­g lesson for all.”

Post Postscript—On Thursday, after the video was taken down from Vimeo, someone, an OHS student I believe, uploaded the whole thing to YouTube. As of Friday afternoon, the video is embedded in the Huffington Post article under a different person’s YouTube account. My guess is the administration required student one to take it down only to have another upload it. Point four. Given the proliferation of social media, school administrators stand no chance of censoring students.